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An Afternoon With Sherman Alexie

There was a crowd gathering outside the College of the Redwoods auditorium, we had all come to hear one of my literary heroes Sherman Alexie give his talk. Indian kids had been bussed in from Hoopa and other areas, financed by the casinos, and as we filed in there was an adolescent buzz, most of the audience was teenagers here to listen to our most prominent Native American author. I found a seat up toward the front and soon a guy took the one next to me, the place was filling up. He immediately let his legs spread apart into the spaces of his neighbors forcing mine to retreat.

“Do you know what 'man-spreading' is?” I said.

“No,” he said.

“Well, it's been all over the news recently, mostly about rude men on subways and busses, and that's what you're doing right now. I would appreciate it if you would keep your legs out of my space.” He pulled back. A few minutes later he pointedly looked at me and held up a pack of TicTacs.

“Are you saying I have bad breath?” I said. He nodded. I licked my wrist and sniffed it, nothing. “What are you, a tough guy?” He was one of those skinny bearded guys with finely coiffed hair, he sported a fancy shirt and a leather vest. We settled into the show and a few minutes later when I started to laugh at Alexie's one-liners the glowering man-spreader got up and left.

Sherman Alexie is a funny guy, a comedian as well as a National Book Award-winning author, he milks the audience for laughs and we were generously responsive as he told stories about his life on and off the reservation, his years-long bout with hydrocephalus as a child, and his passion for writing, basketball, and women, among other topics. When the show was over he took questions from the audience and I had remembered reading in Todd Walton's column in the Anderson Valley Advertiser that Alexie was still, at 50, such a competitive basketball player that his jaw had been broken or shattered in a game.

“Is it true you have part of a pig jaw implanted in your head from a basketball injury?” I said.

“I've got a stalker!” He said, rambling on to other topics until he came back and addressed my question. He's constantly digressing in his stories, jumping through time and back and the question-answer segment is more of the same. He listens to the questions, gives a partial or non-answer then goes off on more tangents, sometimes he actually comes back and answers the question. It didn't matter, we were all having fun, especially Sherman Alexie.

I got his attention for another question and he called on me: “Pig jaw!” (Hmm, maybe that could be my new nickname along with Zukini, Puffy, Paulito, and Jefe?) The funny thing is that I did feel like I wanted to start stalking him. There were all these earnest young kids with their hands up trying to ask questions, a girl near me held hers up for many minutes, and he ignored nearly everyone. I got in a few questions because I was aggressive and wasn't shy, when his body language dictated a pause, when he took a breath, I jumped right in. Pig Jaw! Yeah, I would be his stalker I mused, I would follow his act around the West Coast and when it came to the question-answer session I would roam the crowd with my mic and facilitate the questions, help those shy kids get their words out. Well, maybe it was all by design, maybe he was trying to teach, urge those kids to be more assertive?

I love Sherman Alexie and I love his stories!

(Some years ago I read one about a son trying to fulfill his dying father's last wish, to go to Mexico. He was trying to wheel him up to the border, then the wheel chair breaks and he's carrying his father across the border, and when reading it I laughed and cried (don't we all have daddy issues?) and wrote him a letter but never sent it.)

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